I suspect we would all agree that children need Jesus. Adults need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. But, the earlier we can introduce a child to Jesus, the earlier we can begin to develop solid spiritual foundations for the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities they will face as adults.
There is an old book called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. Her writes, “These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):
1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
He later adds, “Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.”
We would add to Fulghum’s list, “meeting and knowing Jesus at an early age.” Research shows that about 85% of all Christians make a 1st time commitment to Christ during their childhood or teens.
Frederick Douglas, the abolitionist, wrote, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Once of the most familiar stories about Jesus is the time that parents brought their children to Jesus to bless. But, the disciples thought Jesus had more important things to do, so they pushed the families away. But, when Jesus saw what was happening, he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
That’s a pretty meaty statement – “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it means. But, if we simply take it at face-value, Jesus is elevating the importance of Children’s Ministry to an entirely different level. He is saying that his Kingdom belongs to the children!
He didn’t say, “Let the children come to me – I just love kids!”
- or, “I’ve got a few spare minutes.”
- or, “I’d really like to get their parents into church.”
- or, “somebody post a picture of this on Instagram!”
- or, “they’re a lot more fun than you guys!”
He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
According to Jesus, Children’s Ministry is more than…
- a tool to attract young families.
- A place to put the kids during “big” church.
According to Jesus, Children’s Ministry is where the real action is, because it’s where the Kingdom is!
There is an old evangelical expression, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” It basically means that you don’t automatically know Jesus, just by being born into a Christian family. Every person has to meet Jesus for themselves, and make a personal decision to accept him as Lord and Savior. It has to happen in every generation.
Psalm 78:1-7 says,
My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
Notice the intentionality about passing the stories and God’s laws on to the next generation. Two key phrases…
- “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the ”
- “Then they would put their trust in God.”
If you read the Old Testament carefully, you will notice that God seems paranoid about the dangers of his people forgetting to teach the children, to tell them the stories of God, to remind them of what God has done in the past. And, over and over, there are stories – in Judges, and in the Prophets – of one generation that knows and worships God, and a following generation that forgets God, and falls into disaster.
I believe we are living out that same biblical story now. More-or-less 100% of the Baby Boomer generation, and the prior generations, were religious. Everyone had a place of worship. Everyone was either Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. And, Sundays, for the most part, were days set aside culturally, as a day for family and for worship.
But, in my generation – Generation X – only about 50% of us were raised going to church. My children’s generation – the Millennial Generation – dropped to under 30%. The youngest generation -Generation Z – is the largest generation ever born in the United States. The question is whether they will be the generation that abandons the church entirely, or if they will be the generation that returns to the Lord.
I can’t help but wonder how many of the problems we see in our nation – in our own county – today are directly because there’s so little influence of Christ? Will that change with the next generation, or will it just keeping getting worse?
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Let me be very clear about this. We all know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Children’s Ministry is one important part of that village. But, spiritually, the church can only do so much. Think about this. If you add up all of the time a child can potentially spend in church Children’s Ministry activities, that only totals to about 3 days out of 365 days in a year! Where does a child spend the rest of their time? School, sports, screen time, parents? Children’s Ministry, at best reinforces and supplements what children must learn primarily at home. Church cannot be a substitute!
Carey Nieuwhof writes, “The average parent has 75 times the influence of a church leader.”
Kids, for the most part, don’t discover Jesus at church. They might make a decision to follow Jesus at a church event. Children’s Ministry can strengthen, develop, and deepen a child’s faith. But, a child needs to learn about Jesus from his/her family.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians of England.”
Let me ask you, do your children and grandchildren…
- hear you talking about Jesus?
- see you reading your Bibles?
- Hear you pray?
Do you have clear, practiced Christian traditions and values in your home? Are your kids learning to give to the church? Are they learning how to serve Jesus? Do they know your testimony?
Several years ago, I noticed a new trend. I was a campus minister for 11 years – from 2003 to 2014. We had grown a large successful ministry. But, around 2011/2012, our attendance dropped off significantly. At first, I wondered what we were doing wrong. But, after further investigation, we realized that we had more students involved than ever before. They just weren’t coming as often. After even more investigation, we realized that this was the first generation of Christian college students who had grown up playing sports on Sundays. Previously, Sunday’s were reserved for church and family. But, by this particular class of students, skipping church had become normal. They had learned that church was something you do, when you have time. We’ve shaped a generation of young people who believe it is normal to be a part-time Christian.
Faith in Christ is foundational and eternal. Faith in Christ is core to character development. Faith in Christ is about learning the Truth about the world, and themselves.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” I’m sure we can all think of exceptions – people who did grow up in Church, but turned away. There are no guarantees. But, if raise up a child to believe Church is low priority, when they are older, they will not depart from that. If we teach a child to go to Church only when it’s convenient, when he/she is older, they will not depart from it. If we teach a child that Church is an occasional thing, when he/she is older, they will not depart from it.
We have to be intentional teaching a child that faith in Christ is the highest priority!
My wife and I were far from perfect parents. But, one of things I believe we did right was teaching our children that their faith in Christ, and their activity in church, is the first priority. My kids were active in sports, and dance, and music, and took AP classes. But, they very rarely missed church or Youth Group – for anything. Those were priorities. When they complained, we simply reminded them about our family’s priorities and values.
Church, we’ve got to do all we can to immerse our kids in the love of Jesus. At church, we must offer the most dynamic Children’s Ministry we possibly can. And, parents, your kids need you to make faith a priority in your home. The spiritual investments we make in kid’s lives now, will directly impact the adults they become later, and for eternity.